Blonde Ambition – Volvo S90

New 5-serios rival comes no more stripped back than this: front-wheel drive, sub-200bhp diesel, non-air suspension. And still it’s brilliant

volvo-s90With drive-free rear wheels, mechanical springs (albeit of a novel composite and transverse leafy nature at the back) and a lowly four-cylinder diesel behind that strik­ing, P1800-inspired grille, the new-generation family Volvo comes no more ordinary than the D4 S90 in Momentum trim (until the planned manual version arrives). That it’s great suggests both an essential rightness to the engineering beneath Thomas Ingenlath’s stylish metal­work and that the upcoming fast S90/V90S could well be dazzling.

At the 90-series’ unveiling chassis guru Stefan Karlsson insisted that drivers defecting from M Sport BMWs would enjoy driving the new Volvo. ‘The handling is precise and the steering has very lit tie slack – it’s tight; you turn and the car reacts. In this respect it is best in class,’ he told a cynical CAR with admirable conviction.

Really? The XC90, with which the S90 and V90 share much, is an impressive SUV but some way adrift of an X5 in body control, steering precision and keenness in corners. It’s difficult to picture the S90 as a 5-series beater on driver appeal. Surely that’d have to wait for faster var­iants. Well, no. The S90 may share the XC90’s essential underpinnings but they’ve been completely re-calibrated, and everything here feels better than it did in the last XC90 I drove, a D5. This car’s four-cylinder D4 isn’t numerically spectac­ular – 1969CC, 188bhp, and 295lb ft – but on the road it never feels sluggish, with plentiful torque and a smooth, willing delivery that’s quieter and more refined than the XC90’s D5. The eight-speed ’box is a good match too, shifting intelligently and being grown-up enough to go without paddles.

volvo-s90-1The launch cars all sported optional rear air suspension and adaptive dampers but this 100% mechanical set-up has much to recommend it, with a perfectly struck ride/body control balance that smothers pot holes with more aplomb than any M Sport BMW I’ve driven while also staying composed and flat-ish at some pretty ambitious corner speeds. And while the steering might be a littie lifeless and light, it’s far more positive and slack-free than the XC90’s slightly vague helm.

What’s more, so agreeable is the S90’s lounge­-like interior, complete with low-slung and ergonomically divine driver’s seat, that your pas­sengers won’t even notice your distance-crushing pace. When you do arrive early everywhere, they’ll be unanimous in their praise for a Volvo the Ger­mans hoped would never arrive.

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